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Government texts people with HIV to claim they’re at severe risk from coronavirus – but they’re not

Nick Duffy April 8, 2020
Dr Laura Waters of the British HIV Association raised concerns about the text

Dr Laura Waters of the British HIV Association raised concerns about the text

The Government has been condemned for sending mass text messages to people with HIV that claim they’re at severe risk due to coronavirus.

The messages, sent out to people living with HIV, incorrectly urges them to follow the advice on long-term isolation intended for the most severely at-risk groups, such as those with severe lung or heart conditions.

The NHS Coronavirus Service alerts warn: “Your condition means you are at high risk of severe illness if you catch coronavirus.

“Please remain at home for 12 weeks unless a healthcare professional tells you to leave. You will get a letter from the NHS to confirm this.”

Texts warning people with HIV they face ‘severe illness’ spark panic and confusion

The messages sparked confusion as they fly in the face of guidance set out by HIV experts, who have made clear that people with HIV who are on effective treatment are not considered at any greater risk from COVID-19 than anyone else and should follow the routine advice on social distancing.

HIV experts have raised concerns about the coronavirus messages
HIV experts have raised concerns about the coronavirus messages

Guidance previously published by Dr Michael Brady of Terrence Higgins Trust, the national adviser for LGBT+ health, makes clear that people who are HIV-positive “with a good CD4 count and an undetectable viral load are not considered to have weakened immune systems” and should not be considered high-risk.

Dr Laura Waters of the British HIV Association raised concerns about the texts on Tuesday, urging people with HIV to ignore them “unless you have another reason to shield.”

People living with HIV urged to ignore government coronavirus message.

In a joint statement on Wednesday (April 8), Terrence Higgins Trust and the British HIV Association (BHIVA) said: “We are currently investigating who received these messages and why this has happened.

“In the meantime, the British HIV Association has contacted all members and added a message to the BHIVA website to reassure people living with HIV that they are not at any greater risk of COVID-19.

There is no evidence, nor guidance, that people with well controlled HIV should shield.

“BHIVA and THT recommend that only people whose immune system is known to be very weak as shown by a CD4 count of less than 50, or who have had a serious illness due to suppression of the immune system in the last 6 months, should be encouraged to follow the shielding advice.”

The charities added: “These are anxious times for everyone, but we are urging people living with HIV not to panic. We will continue to monitor the latest developments and provide updated guidance if and when necessary.”

PinkNews has contacted the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.

More: British HIV Association, HIV, Terrence Higgins Trust

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